Tulane University, Dept. Earth & Environmental Sciences

Natural Disasters

EENS 3050  & EENS 6050

Fall 2015

Prof. Stephen A. Nelson


Course Description

An examination of the causes, effects, and options available to mitigate natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami, landslides, subsidence, flooding, severe weather, and meteorite impacts.

Follow the links below to material related to this course. New links will be added and updated throughout the semester, so check back with this page often.

Click on the Topic of Interest Below

Course Announcements

Syllabus 3050

Syllabus 6050

Disaster Summary Information

Lecture Notes

Homework Exercises




Web Links



Announcements - Look here  for announcements concerning this course


August 23, 2015


After exams, I post here in the announcement section some of the issues I found while grading the exams.  These comments may be helpful and you can find these old announcements from previous semesters by clicking HERE.

October 11, 2015

I have graded the midterm exam and will pass it back in class tomorrow (Monday, 10/12).   To see the results and some comments on the exam, click HERE.

December 10, 2015

Final Exam scores and course grades have been posted on Blackboard (My Tulane).  

If you want to see your final exam or have any questions about your scores or grades, please feel free to send me an email to make an appointment to come by my office, Room 208 Blessey Hall.  


Here are some general comments on the exam (you will note that many of these are the same as I posted for the last time this course was taught and available on this site in the announcement for August 23.

  • Some general advice - when a professor explicitly tells you that certain questions are going to be on an exam, it is alway in your best interest to believe that professor and take actions so that you do not miss those questions when they actually do show up on the exam.
  • Magmas DO NOT come from the liquid outer core of the earth, but there are still 3 people in the course who think that they do (didn't we settle this on the midterm exam?). 
  • The last time I checked, the letter I was still the ninth letter in the Alphabet.  I'm also pretty sure that it was the third letter in the alphabet (not the fifth letter) when Hurricane Isaac came ashore back in 2012. Apparenlty 33% of you still don't know your alphabet or you just can't get it in minds that hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin are named alphabetically every year,

  • Each increase in 1 in earthquake magnitude represents a 30 fold increase in energy released, NOT a 10 fold increase as 15% of you still think. 

  • Although large earthquakes in China and floods in Bangladesh usually result in a large number of casualties, an impact with a large space object (> 1 km) would result in many more casualties and is thus the worst possible disaster we discussed in the course.

  • Although a cinder cone erupting in a major city might be a very bad disaster, it is certainly not the worst possible volcanic disaster.  Think about supervolcano eruptions.  The one that did occur in 70,000 years ago is estimated to have wiped out most of the human population in existence at the time.

  • 33% of you still think that anywhere there are faults therer are likely to earthquakes.  While it is true that if thefaults that have been active in human history, then there are likely to be earthquakes, there are millions of ancient faults that will never produce an earthquake again. 
  • Four people still think that it was the Mississippi River levees that failed during Hurricane Katrina.  The fact is that the only levees that failed were on human made navigation and drainage canals. 

  • The volcano that produced the largest eruption in the last million years was Yellowstone.  Many of you (50% fo the course) were thinking in terms of human history and had only recent eruptions (Mount St Helens, Vesuvius, Pelee, etc.) as an answer to this question.

Life or Death

Only one of you died during a hurricane when you wrongly opened the doors and windows in you house thinking that it would equalize pressure.

Only 1 died died when you didn't evacuate from your beach house when a Category 5 hurricane hit.

Three of you died in the desert when you saw that it was raining but failed to realize that flash floods are very common in deserts during and after rainstorms.


Six of you died in a pyroclastic flow produced by a Plinian eruption when you failed to realize that pyroclastic flows are the most dangerous aspsects of Plinian eruptions. People in Pompeii and Herculaneum did not know about this phenomonon so they may be excused.  But after having taking this class, six of you should have known better.

Four of you died when you were struck by lightning while running into an open field to avoid the lightning.


Four of you died in the tsunami when you did something other than climb the hill near the beach. 

I died of a heart attack 5 times when 5 of you told me that New Orleans has a 40% chance each year of getting hit by a Category 5 hurricane.  While we may have a 40% chance each year of getting hit by a named storm, thankfully we don't have a high percentage chance of getting hit by a Category 5 storm (only 3 Category 5 storms have ever made landfall in the U.S.)


Have a nice holiday break!


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Lecture Notes

Note:  Two versions of each set of lecture notes are shown in the table below.  The first is in html format, optimized for viewing on the Web.  You can print this version directly from your Web browser, but there is no guarantee that the pages will break where they are supposed to, since each person's browser can be set up differently (margins, fonts, font sizes, etc.).  

The PDF (Portable Document Format) versions of the lecture notes are optimized for printing.  All page breaks should occur correctly.  If your web browser has the proper plug-in installed, clicking on the PDF will bring the file into your web browser from which you can then print the notes.  If the plug-ins are not installed, your web browser will either attempt to download the PDF files or offer to send you to the Adobe web site to download the plug-ins for your browser.  If you choose to download the PDF format lecture notes you will still need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and print the files.  This and further information about the browser plug-ins can be obtained by clicking on the icon below.

getacro.gif (712 bytes)

Special Note on Fonts-  Some web browsers use a different method to display the Symbol font which I used for creating Greek Characters like - Δ Σ α β etc. If these characters do not show up as Greek characters, your browser has this problem.   The alternative is to use a different browser to view the html files or to use the PDF files where all fonts are rendered correctly.

Note: Only Files with the Red Asterisk * have been updated for the Fall 2015 Term.

 Natural Disasters & Assessing Hazards and Risk*

PDF File*

Earth Structure, Materials, Systems, and Cycles*

PDF File*

Earthquakes: Causes and Measurements*

PDF File*

Earthquake Hazards & Risks*

PDF File*

Earthquake Prediction, Control, & Mitigation*

PDF File*

Earthquake Case Histories

PDF File


PDF File*


Volcanoes, Magma, and Volcanic Eruptions*

PDF File*

Volcanic Landforms, Volcanoes & Plate Tectonics*

PDF File*

Volcanic Hazards, & Predicting Eruption*

PDF File*

Volcanic Case Histories*

PDF File*

River Systems & Causes of Flooding*

PDF File*

River Flooding*

PDF File*

Flooding Hazards, Prediction & Human Intervention*

PDF File

Mass Movements *

PDF File *

Slope Stability, Triggering Events, Prediction, & Mitigation*

PDF File*


PDF File*

The Ocean-Atmosphere System*

PDF File

Tornadoes & Other Severe Weather*

PDF File*

Tropical Cyclones*

PDF File*


Coastal Zones*

PDF File*


Meteorites, Impacts, and Mass Extinction*

PDF File*



References to works cited in Lecture Notes

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Homework Exercises

Note: Both HTML and PDF files are available from the list below.

Note: Only files with an asterisk (*) have been updated for the Fall 2015 Term.

I. Disaster Info on the Internet*

Assigned - Aug. 24

Due Sept. 4

PDF File*

II. Seismological Exercises*

Assigned Sept. 4

Due Sept. 16

PDF File*

III. Volcanological Exercises*

Assigned Sept. 21

Due Oct. 7

PDF File*

IV.  Flooding Exercises*

Assigned Oct. 14

Due Oct. 23

PDF File*

V. Mass Movement Exercises*

Assigned Oct. 26

Due Nov. 4

PDF File*

VI. Weather Exercises*

Assigned Nov. 6

Due Nov. 23

PDF File*

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Links to Natural Disaster Information on the Internet
Note: This list is not exhaustive, but it contains some important links that will also contain other links to natural disaster information.

Plate Tectonics


Natural Disasters in General


Volcanic Eruptions




Weather Related Disasters

 Meteorite Impacts

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